Managing the Toll of Serious Illness on Mental Health

by Corinne Lewis, Mekdes Tsega, and Eric C. Schneider, M.D.

We know from previous research that serious medical conditions and such mental health problems can exacerbate one another. A condition such as depression can make it harder to manage chronic conditions like diabetes, for example. The reverse is also true; grappling with an illness such as cancer can worsen anxiety and depression.

Among people with serious illness, those reporting mental health issues were more likely to:

  • Feel socially isolated.
  • Experience financial vulnerabilities.
  • Experience problems with their health care.

What Can Health Care Systems Do?

People with serious illness have intense and repeated interactions with the health care system, but their mental health concerns and other problems, like social isolation and financial stress, too often go unseen and unaddressed. Nevertheless, some creative organizations are reimagining care to better support their needs and reduce the confusion of the health care system:

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